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19 April 2021

How to grow foxgloves

Foxgloves are a beautiful wildflower that pollinators love. For the great display, look out for our Best Buy varieties
Foxglove
CT
Ceri Thomas

Foxgloves are one of our most popular spring wildflowers. They’re nectar-rich and great for bees, and although they don’t often survive after they’ve flowered– as they’re usually biennials – they will self-seed around the garden so you’ll get new plants springing up each year. To get specific colours or varieties you’ll need to buy seeds, but they’re inexpensive and easy to grow. Breeding over the years has given us varieties with larger flowers carried all around the stems rather than just on one side, plus a great range of colours and flower shapes.

Which? Gardening magazine grew a range of popular varieties to see which would give us the best display.

How to grow foxgloves: month by month

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SOW PLANT/FLOWERING
July August September October November December
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Best foxglove varieties

Which? members can log in now to see the full results and which are our Best Buy varieties. If you’re not a member, join Which? to get instant access.

Best Buy foxgloves
What it looks like Variety name Height x spread
Member content
Member content
100 x 50cm
This series of foxgloves are reputed to flower for two years, but in our trial, this variety died after the first year. However, in that year it gave a great display of its perky, pale-cream, wide-mouthed flowers that faced outwards. The bees loved them and the plants produced a huge mass of spikes, looking good for a month. It has an RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM).
What it looks like Variety name Height x spread
Member content
Member content
130 x 50cm
This variety also died after flowering in the first year, but it gave a great display that made up for it. The deep-rose blooms with their cream-and-purple-speckled interior were also large and outward-facing. They attracted plenty of bees and, while a few stems flopped, most stayed upright for around five weeks. It is also an AGM variety.
What it looks like Variety name Height x spread
Member content
Member content
75 x 45cm
This variety was more delicate than many and could work well in a pot. It had a smaller clump of slimmer leaves than the others, and masses of slender flower spikes that were comparatively short. Due to the fact it’s sterile, the plants don’t set seed, so they gave a terrific display that was at its best for over six weeks – longer than any other variety in the trial. Sterility also means it won’t self-seed around the garden.
What it looks like Variety name Height x spread
Member content
Member content
125 x 60cm
An impressive variety that grew into big plants that had a sizeable clump of hairy leaves at the base. All the clumps had plenty of strong, upright flower spikes. These were closely packed with large, drooping white flowers that had striking purple markings inside. The characteristic split in the tubular petals gave them their distinctive look and we loved the way so many flowers were open at once, creating a beautiful display.

How we test foxgloves

We chose 20 foxglove varieties that represented the most popular series and varieties, and some more recent introductions, as well as the native foxglove, Digitalis purpurea. We sowed the seeds in a greenhouse and grew them on under cover. We then hardened off the young plants in a coldframe and planted seven plants of each variety outside. We assessed them for the impact, size and shape of the flower heads, and number of spikes; the vigour and strength of the plants' stems; and whether they were susceptible to pests and diseases.

When to sow

Sow the tiny foxglove seeds in May by scattering them thinly over the surface of prewatered Best Buy compost for sowing seeds in a pot or half tray. 

Cover very lightly with compost or vermiculite. Keep them in a well-lit position at about 15-20°C. 

Compost should be kept moist. Place the seed tray in water rather than watering from above, which risks disturbing the seed. 

Germination can be erratic so prick seedlings out into modules or small pots containing a Best Buy compost for raising young plants when they are large enough to handle.

Caring for your plants

Planting

Plant outdoors once the roots have filled the pot or module. Plant into moist but well-drained soil in part-shade or in sun. 

Water in well and during dry spells until established.

Watering 

Water during very dry spells of weather to prevent the roots from drying out.

Deadheading

Unless you’re growing a sterile variety, deadhead your plants after flowering to prevent too many seedlings appearing.

Common growing problems

Slugs and snails

Slugs and snails eat new foxglove growth in spring. Protect with organic slug pellets containing ferric phosphate. Alternatively, you can apply a biological control such as Nemaslug.

Read more about slugs and snails

Aphids

Squash or remove aphids as soon as you see them to prevent colonies building up.

Read more about greenfly

Fungal leaf spots

Leaves can be affected by fungal leaf spots, which appear as brown patches, or powdery mildew, which appears as a white coating on the surface of the leaf. Pick off diseased leaves or spray with a suitable fungicide.

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